Never give up on your dreams
In life, almost everyone has something that challenges them. What we endure each day shapes us into the unique people we are. The day my challenge was made clear to me was when my head crashed against the floor – and the once vivid world I saw suddenly went black.
Ever since I was little, I knew I was different. I never had as much energy as other kids, and always seemed to be in some sort of pain. Most kids don't look back on their childhood and think about all the doctor appointments they went to, but for me, that was part of my everyday life.
We were constantly searching for an answer, constantly trying every possible solution to attempt to make me feel better, but it was useless. I spent hours upon hours in waiting rooms and hospitals getting tested and treated, only to end up empty-handed and answerless.
Defying all odds, I continued to chase after my dream to keep playing. My passion for the game and dedication has allowed me to overcome my daily struggle and play the game I love.
However, I never gave up. I just hoped and prayed one day things would turn around and my body would heal. It wasn't until things hit an all-time low for me that I began to get some answers.
It got to the point where I could no longer move. I could no longer hear more than a drowned-out echo, draw in a sharp breath to speak, or even tolerate my own thoughts. The nausea would become unbearable and as lifeless and tired as I felt it was too exhausting to sleep. So I would lay, comatose.
I wallowed in my own suffering and aching body. I tried to fight every second of it but my head was too heavy and my mind was too thick to even register the movement. I would lay there and vaguely recall how I became that way. My vision was blurred but even if I could see clearly the room would be spiraling out of control. Every speck of noise entered me like a wave of pain that ate away at me as I laid there helpless and broken. My face was burning and I felt smothered by my own body heat, yet chills raced up and down my spine cutting into me like knives with every shiver.
That is what I felt like on a regular basis when I would have one of my episodes. It wasn't until I was 15 that doctors discovered I had an autonomic nervous system disease known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). It mainly affects heart rate and blood pressure regulation, but the symptoms of POTS are life-altering and debilitating at times. Patients use about three times more energy to stand than a healthy person. Simple, everyday activities can be exhausting. Most patients have to make some lifestyle adjustments to cope with this disorder.
Even though I still struggle daily, I refuse to let my POTS win. I will not let it bring me down, nor have I let it.
There were many days I had to push through my fatigue to practice with my basketball team, and several times I ended up fainting after games. Defying all odds, I continued to chase after my dream to keep playing. My passion for the game and dedication has allowed me to overcome my daily struggle and play the game I love. God had a plan for me I didn't understand, but I continued to have faith and perseverance.
The journey that led me to the American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk and Three-point Championships in Dallas began on our first playoff game day. I raced into the gym (late again) and began to get ready. I pretended to concentrate on putting on my gear to avoid another comment on being late as my coach, Joe Zenir, darted towards me.
However, instead of a lecture he informed me of a random email he received about a three-point competition. I had no idea the email was going to be the ticket to achieving my dreams. Later that week I created the highlight film for the voting, (still completely oblivious of how large the competition really was) and my journey was slowly set in motion.
Every basketball player dreams to compete in a national event like the High School Slam Dunk and Three-point Championships, but for me to even play with my condition was miracle. So to be given the opportunity through the voting was nothing short of fate. For me, being at the competition was so much more than just playing basketball. It was the ultimate way to show people, especially those who have challenges in their lives, how far I have come with my challenge and hopefully inspire others with my story.
Click HERE to watch highlights from Jessica's performance at the American Family Insurance 3-point Championships.
My dream dangled right in front of me on my computer. It was torture knowing the moment I have been wishing for … fighting for … staying strong for … was only out of reach by a few votes. Friends, family and strangers all over the country started to ban together to help. With the combined effort from everyone, I was able to win the voting to earn the sixth and final slot to go to Dallas.
I will never forget the feeling of pure love and support that filled me when I saw my dreams turned into reality on my computer screen.
The week leading up to the championship was a whirlwind. The night I found out I was going to Dallas I drove straight up to the gym to shoot at 10 p.m., and stayed until they kicked me out. It was the busiest week of my life – but also the greatest. I got my taste of 15 minutes of fame, and luckily mine lasted a lot longer.
Aside from all the interviews, radio calls, TV appearances and more, I spent every extra waking moment in the gym. The only way to calm my nerves was to go shoot. And even when I wasn't, I focused on the mental aspect of my game and visualized my routine with each shot going in. I was extra driven to do great in the competition – not only for myself, but for everyone who voted for me. I wanted to thank everyone who got me there in the best way possible – by winning the whole thing.
I didn't want to be anyone but me, and that was the best feeling in the world.
On the day before the competition, I boarded a plane to Dallas with a basketball in my carry-on bag and a heart filled with excitement. I got picked up by my own driver and taken to the gorgeous hotel. I felt like a celebrity! The place was crawling with basketball players – both college level and high school. It was crazy for me to think I was one of them. I went to bed that night eager for the events the next day and for my time to shine.
The morning of the completion, we made our way to Duncanville High School, which was HUGE! We spent most of the morning in the gym warming up and doing film work. That was one of the most entertaining parts! The girls and I laughed and joked at how none of us knew what we were doing. I had a blast saying lines to the camera and bustin' out my best dribble moves for when they introduced each player.
I was having way too much fun to be nervous at all that day! I gained so much confidence just from the beginning of the day, and I loved that I could be myself. I didn't care what anyone thought about me, because I finally felt proud of who I was and what I accomplished by just being there.
I didn't want to be anyone but me, and that was the best feeling in the world.
After a long morning of anticipation, we were finally allowed in the main gym to warm up for the event. I stayed away from shooting threes the entire day, and continued to work on my form shooting until each shot I took was nothing but net. The crowd started to pour in and fill every single seat in the colossal gym. The other players were busy warming up and shooting, but I took a step back to take it all in.
I was in awe of where I was, and then it hit me. I made it. I'm here. Jessica Lesesky, from the little town of Brecksville , Ohio. ME, the girl who was told I had to quit basketball. "The sick girl" who was just found passed out in the shower only a month ago. I'm standing here. HERE. I actually made it.
It was beautiful: The lights, the colors, the crowd, the noise. It all it synced together to form a perfect moment. I’d already won, just by standing there for that very second. Everything I fought through in my life was finally – FINALLY – worth it.
The energy in the gym was electrifying. The crowd was so enthusiastic. I think I had more fun watching them then they had watching us! The boys were up first. I had so much fun just cheering them on, I was always the first one to jump up off the bench and give them high-fives! I knew their time was winding down, and we would be next.
I said a quick prayer before running out to be introduced and knew from the calmness I felt – I was ready for my moment. I was secretly hoping for three things:
- I would shoot at the hoop I warmed up on.
- I would go first (so I wouldn't have time to get nervous by watching the other players)
- And to compete against the one girl at the other end.
All were extremely unlikely but I still prayed for them. To my amazement, they announced when our turn was and ALL THREE of the things I prayed for happened. I knew right then and there, God was going to carry me through the competition. I stepped up to take my turn, taking as deep of breaths as my lungs would allow me to keep myself sane.
It wasn't until the buzzer rang to start and I picked up the first basketball that the waves of nerves hit me. My entire body was shaking so violently I'm not sure I was able to even move and shoot let alone MAKE them! Actually shooting was a blur. I just remember I was smiling the entire time because I was having so much fun.
Before I knew it the first round was over and I had the highest score at a 17. The next round started before I could even catch my breath! I waited anxiously in my starting position for the buzzer to ring, but there were issues with the score board so I had to wait for what seemed like forever in pure apprehension. I finally stood up and looked around to figure out what was going on and "BUZZ!" the alarm rang to start and caught me off guard! I picked up the first ball to shoot and CLANK! It bounces off the side of the backboard.
It was an ugly start, but it didn't matter. I made the next four shots. The crowd ROARED! I ended up with a final score of 17 again, and my competitor had scored just five. I was in too much shock to even realize I’d won! They announced my name and called me to the center court to receive my trophy, but I just stood there.
Frozen. Comatose. In awe.
The first step I took I wanted to just drop to me knees in pure amazement. My most cherished memory by far was when the producers asked my dad to come down from the stands (he was the only parent they asked to do that), and I was able to run and give him a hug and share this unforgettable moment with him.
To see how proud he was of me was the most rewarding and joyous moment of my entire life. I am going to remember that forever. As much as my face seriously started to hurt, I couldn't stop smiling. I didn't just make it, I WON IT!
It was the most incredible experience and winning the entire event made it far beyond a dream come true.
I have been blessed enough to have miracles worked in me and I am in awe that God chose me to show the world just a glimpse of the astounding things He can do. I hope I inspired people with my story and that they never EVER give up. No matter what challenges life throws or what people say, keep chasing your dreams – because anything is possible, and dreams truly do come true.
Editor's note: American Family Insurance is the title sponsor of the High School Slam Dunk and 3-point Championships.